Jana Faulk, Long-Haul Truck Driver
Faulk was born in Missouri and raised in Corpus Christi. Before becoming a truck driver with her husband, Tony, she lived in the West Texas town of Terlingua (population: 267), where she worked as a horseback wilderness guide and owned a popular, though now defunct, liquor store. Tony was a bartender and worked as a guide for a local river company.
My husband, Tony, and I ran away from home last year and became truck drivers. We’ve never been back. We hit our early fifties, and we realized that we had zero retirement savings. None. So we committed to working really hard for the next ten years so that we could retire when we hit sixty. Most people work hard when they’re young, and then they slow down. But Tony and I ate dessert first. Now we’re having to eat the rest of the meal.
I was just a rolling stone until I moved to the Big Bend area twenty years ago and had a kid. It was a very laid-back, quasi-hippie lifestyle. I lived in a straw-bale house that my family and I built. It had an outhouse and an outdoor shower. My son did his homework by the light of a Coleman lantern. He was the valedictorian of Big Bend High School, in Terlingua, and he got a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin. I shipped him off to school last fall, and Tony and I hit the road.
You’re paid by the mile, so the harder you run, the more money you make. We alternate driving, so our truck rolls nonstop. We stop for fuel and potty breaks now and then, but we never stop and sleep. We have sleepers in our truck, so one of us sleeps while the other drives. We split the driving into twelve-hour shifts. I work from three in the afternoon to three in the morning, and Tony works from three in the morning to three in the afternoon. That way, we both get some light and some dark. I have fallen asleep in Texas and woken up in Florida. It’s amazing how far you can go when the truck is rolling 24/7. We were in Chicago yesterday, and we’ll be in California tomorrow. Not going home is what makes it lucrative for us.
Tony and I have been married for four years. My late husband was one of Tony’s best friends. We’re both outdoorsy, and we’re both tough as nails. I sprang this whole idea on him after I read an article about couples who were trucking partners. I wanted to do something that made good money, but I also wanted us to be together, so it seemed perfect. I had pulled dually pickups with horse trailers from Big Bend to Colorado before, so I was familiar with driving bigger rigs. That was something I wasn’t afraid of.
We went to work for Con-way Truckload, and they sent us to trucking school. It was a month of more intensity than I have ever been through in my life. I had never been in a semi before, and the first day of class, I was driving one. I was the only woman in this class; there were eight men and me. And I just muscled my way through it and shed a lot of nighttime pillow tears, by myself, out of frustration. But I knew I could do it, and I did.
Tony and I are the new face of trucking. We are a mature couple who has no responsibilities at home and no over-the-top financial burdens, and we are fun and savvy people. There are a lot of trucking couples where the woman takes on a much less equal role. But we are not that way; I’m a full working-driving partner. If it falls on my shift, it’s my job. I’ve never felt nervous in a truck stop, and I’ve never felt put down or frowned upon in any way.
We do “over-the-road” trucking, or OTR, which means that we don’t do local deliveries within a city. We mostly stick to the interstate. We literally drive from one side of the country to the other. It’s more lucrative to be a team because we can move more freight. Solo truckers have to stop ten hours a day, but we’re almost always on the road. Our fuel mileage is better because we don’t stop and start as much. If solo drivers want the air-conditioning on while they sleep, they have to idle, which really wrecks their miles per gallon. Diesel costs between $4.50 and $4.95 a gallon right now. When I fueled up the truck today, it was over $500. It’s mind-boggling.
We haul everything. Once we hauled 44,000 pounds of dry milk from California to Laredo. Another time we hauled a big load of toothpaste additive down to the border. We’ve hauled flat-screen TVs, automobile glass, you name it. Our truck is a Kenworth T660. It’s a semi, and when it’s fully loaded, it can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Inside, it’s very tight. We live in a space that is the size of a bathroom. We eat, sleep, work, do everything in an area that is about eight feet by eight feet. Everything has to be in its place and put away, because the truck rocks and rolls, and you don’t want things falling on you. Anything you want to bring into the truck has to be scrutinized—you know, do we really need it? We took hardly anything with us except for our dog, Leo. He’s a Chihuahua Pomeranian. He rides in a car seat in the passenger seat. Typically, he rides with me. I can talk to him and reach over and pet him, and he keeps me company.
The responsibility of driving an 80,000-pound missile that doesn’t slow down or stop very quickly can be nerve-racking. These things are so much bigger than you think. We take up the whole lane. I look in my mirrors, and I can see the white lines on either side. There’s no margin of error. And then add in bad weather. The worst kind of driving is when it’s dark, wet, and icy. I can deal with any two of those, but when you put all three together, that’s when it’s time to stop.
I really don’t get bored. It’s not like being in your car; it’s a more focused kind of driving. Caffeine is, of course, my friend. We have XM radio, and we are avid books-on-tape people. Truck stops have books-on-tape programs, so we can rent one and turn it back in at the next truck stop. Tony and I also really enjoy the silence.
We have arranged our schedules so that we are both awake and spend time together from noon to five o’clock in the afternoon. So if we have the time in our schedule, we will stop and eat a meal then. We try and eat one meal together—a sit-down, non-fast-food meal— every other day or so.
When we retire, we want to spend part of the year in Terlingua and the other part of the year in Mexico. We don’t want to drive all over the country and see the world—we’re already doing that. We want to stay put.